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Tin Hau temple (god of seafarers!)

Stef has been struggling to fight off the last remnants of a cough and cold and a coughing fit this morning has resulted in him pulling the muscles in his back. Not great timing as he could hardly walk this morning and we were due to check out of our luxury pad and slum it on public transport to our cheap and cheerful hostel. The hotel is pretty busy but they were happy for us to stay an extra night … for double the rate we have paid for the last two nights! We thought “blow that” but took advantage of an extended check out so that Stef was at least mobile.

We made it across the harbour by cab and checked into the hostel. We have a small room off the lounge/computer room but it is away from the main street so it is quiet. There is just about enough room for us both to stand and pass each other, but still more space than we have had for the last four months in Morty.

With Stef mobile but only just we decided to go easy on the sight seeing and opted for a walk in nearby Victoria Park. As you walk into the park there is a huge concrete open space the size of a football pitch. This was the scene last weekend for a demonstration and from the picture I saw in the paper in Vancouver before we left, the whole place was full of people. The taxi driver who dropped us at the hostel said that it will probably be the scene for more demonstrations next week.

The World Trade Organisation will be in town for a conference and about seven thousand Chinese farmers are expected here to demonstrate against the USA. They subsidise their cotton farmers which means it is cheaper for China to import US cotton than it is to by it from their own farmers. Understandably the Chinese farmers are not happy. The taxi driver said that some of them are “crazy” and that about a quarter of the taxis will not work on the Island while the conference is on. They are clearly expecting trouble on the streets.

We walked through the park which has gardens, a jogger’s path and a tai chi space. It is also home to lots of sporting activity with an open air swimming pool, tennis courts (including a grandstanded centre court), squash courts and basketball courts. People were using all of these facilities and we sat for a while watching the world go by.

A few blocks away from the park is a Tin Hau Temple. It is set in small gardens with water falling softly through different square pools. The temple is small and from the look of the paintwork it has seen better days. A series of murals above the main entrance seemed to be telling a story but I could not work out what it was. Inside the smell of incense was very strong and the air had a haze of smoke. There were a couple of people who were here making offerings and it seemed to culminate in the lighting a bunch of joss sticks which were then separated out between pots both inside and outside the temple.

The interior was very rich in decoration with lots of reds and golds. There were no prayer wheels in sight but a rack at the back of the temple had lots of small pieces of paper (about a sixth of a sheet of A4) onto which lots of characters were printed. We tried to ask what these were for and I am still not really sure. I think that they are prayers or offerings and that people roll them up and then burn them like the incense sticks.

Leaving the temple we popped into a Wellcome shop, which turned out to be a local supermarket. As with South America and Canada, the same big brand names are splattered all over the shelves. While it is comforting and reassuring to see familiar items, and even funny to see Frosties packets in Chinese characters, it is yet another sign that cultural differentiation between countries is being eroded as super global brands dominate the world’s economy.

From here we headed down to the waterfront and attempted to find the Noon Day Gun, the one sung about in Noel Coward’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen song. We knew where we wanted to go, the only problem was that a big and very busy main road was in the way and the sign posts pointed us first one way and then back to where we had come from. Eventually the mystery was solved.

You walk up the car park between the World Trade Centre and the Excelsior hotel next door, doubling back on yourself almost immediately to go down steps to the lower floors of the WTC car park. Here a path takes you through a corridor under the road and along massive pipes taking sea water to and from the Excelsior. Finally you come out on the other side of the road – obvious eh! (Just seen that Lonely Planet tells you all of this – oh well, better read it next time!)

The gun is locked away in a small screened in patch of green but is covered in a tarpaulin when it is not in use. You can only get close to it for the half hour after the gun is fired at Noon. Local legend has it that the gun was fired by a Jardine’s employee as a salute to a boat that was leaving, standard practice by Jardines. The boat was crossing the path of a Royal Navy boat at the time and the officer on board did not know of the Jardine’s custom. As a penalty for firing the gun, and presumably breaking nautical protocols, Jardines were ordered to fire the gun each day at noon. An alternative line is that it was just a way to signal to all and sundry what the time was on a daily basis.

Looking back towards town from the gun we saw a common Hong Kong sight. Nestled in between two big new swanky glass covered tower blocks was an apartment block from an earlier age. Air conditioner units hung outside from every window and the block itself looked dirty and dingy. According to Lonely Planet one of the best value hostels in town is based here. I looked at it and thought it looked ready for the bull dozers ball, which no doubt is not far away as at least another twenty five floors could be build on top of what is currently there.

Bright lights of Hong Kong

We attempted to walk around the point a little but again were thwarted by Hong Kong’s manic road network. Instead we doubled back and headed on to the Wan Chai part of town to have a refreshing beer. Again we ended up in expat territory with English and Irish pubs nestled in between very sleazy looking bars where it was obvious that flesh was on sale as well as alcohol. We opted for a little wooden bar with windows open onto the road and settled in for a two for the price of one Happy Hour special. It was quite a cosy place and a much needed resting point.

Refreshed we headed over the harbour and back to Kowloon, making our way to the waterfront Avenue of Stars. On the island side, about twenty of the big office blocks have been decorated with lights for the Christmas season. Really and truthfully, they are a bit tacky but it is quite something to see a skyscraper decorated to look like a Christmas card. At 8:00pm they have what they call the festival of lights, a ten minute light and sound show.

Again I would have to say that the show was tacky but whoever engineered it and put it together was a very clever chap. Some of the buildings had laser lights pointing up into the sky but all had lights that were switched on and off in time with the music. It was as if the buildings were an orchestra and that the conductor was hidden away out of sight coordinating and controlling events. It was definitely worth seeing but I do not think I would make a point of being somewhere where I could see it again.

Very foot sore by this stage we headed back towards our hostel, stopping off for a quick bite to eat along the way. Our room has seen better days. Where the wallpaper has peeled off the walls over the years other non-matching strips have been put up in its place. The cabinet under the sink in the bathroom is held together with Sellotape and if the cupboard ever did have doors they are long gone, which actually probably helps make the room look a bit bigger. The windows have quite a garish pattern painted onto them but it helps to maintain privacy from peoples in the blocks nearby. Despite all of this it is very clean and the bed has a firm mattress and we are probably both so tired we will sleep very well.